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HomeColumnsDirector SeriesDirector series-Andrew Adamson, Narnia

Director series-Andrew Adamson, Narnia

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Epic battles between man and beast, hauntingly realistic talking animals, half-human, half-CG actors and a feast of fantastical FX turns CS Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe into a visual—and visual effects—extravaganza. Brought to the big screen by visual effects artist-turned-Shrek director Andrew Adamson, the Disney film is every bit as delightful as the original children’s story… and likely hit this holiday season with kids and fantasy fans the world over.More than three years in the making, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was a labor of love for Adamson, a huge fan of the popular children’s story since his own childhood. The director set himself a mission to recreate not just his own vivid memory of the magical tale, but also to satisfy everyone else who’s ever fallen under the Narnia spell. With a mammoth team of visual effects wizards and special effects magicians, and a crew of some of the finest film craftspeople in the business, Adamson more than achieved his goal. Here he takes Below the Line behind the scenes of this blend of live action and CGI.Below the Line: What was it that appealed to you about the story of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?Andrew Adamson: A large part of the appeal was it was very much part of my childhood. I couldn’t resist doing the film. What I liked about it, and why it’s been so well received by children over so many generations, is it’s a story of empowerment for children. It’s a great thing for kids to feel like they have control over their lives.BTL: How did you go about picking your crew? Were there certain people you had worked with before?Adamson: [Editor] Sim Evan-Jones, [costume designer] Isis Mussenden and [composer] Harry Gregson-Williams were all people I’d worked with on the two Shrek films. Others came from [producer] Mark Johnson, who shared my ideas. With [production designer] Roger Ford, I loved what he did with Babe, and I chose [cinematographer] Don McAlpine [ASC] because of what he’d done before, particularly on Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge, which were so beautiful and well shot.BTL: Describe your collaboration with your DP.Adamson: Don is somebody who completely immerses himself in what he does. He chose not to read the book because he was worried that doing so it would take away from him what my impression of it was. He wanted to capture my vision. Don is, more than anything else, a lighting DP. He lights in the way one would paint. He’s 71 and has worked on a lot of films, and he said it was the biggest and most complex set he’d ever lit. Roger and Ian [Gracie, art director] built huge risen sets for the ice columns, and Don got all the Kino Flos he could get his hands on to light it.BTL: How were those incredible winter snow scenes created? Did you use real locations?Adamson: At the beginning of the production, when I started thinking about it, I was working with a fairly small crew and I started looking at winter landscapes. At the same time, one of production designers was looking, and we both found these locations in the Czech Republic. We scouted there and found places I loved. But it didn’t seem practical to take an eight-year-old to shoot there in minus-18-degree temperatures. When Roger came to build the [winter forest] set he took molds of the rocks, and we wanted to created what we had seen. Where Mr Tumnus lived, we shot those scenes in aircraft hangers on stages in Auckland, New Zealand. Then we shot the wider winter scenes and other landscapes in the Czech Republic and Poland. When Lucy first meets Mr Tumnus, her point of view is a real location in Poland. They go to his house [on set], then walk off the stage and into a location in the Czech Republic. The river scenes we shot at the Barrandov Studios in Prague.BTL: Tell us about your production designer Roger Ford, and his team’s contribution.Adamson: You’d never know he had such a mammoth task. Roger is a gentleman in the true sense of the word. I never saw him really daunted by it. Our art director Ian was phenomenal, taking our ideas and making them into a reality. He is calm, and he had a sensibility about the film that’s very lyrical. I tended to find people who really shared that aesthetic. He brought a true reality to the period things, like the professor’s house, which he built. He had 16th-century furniture shipped [to New Zealand] from the UK.BTL: Is it true the wardrobe was modeled after one that CS Lewis had once owned?Adamson: There was one that CS Lewis grew up with, in a museum somewhere, and it’s true, it inspired him. But it was different to how he described it in the book. I decided early on I wanted to paint [The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe prequel] The Magician’s Nephew into the design of the wardrobe, so we had a storyboard of The Magicians Nephew carved into the wardrobe.BTL: Your costume designer Isis Mussenden’s designs for the White Witch are stunning. What were some of her ideas that shaped the characters?Adamson: This was a very big film for Isis. I’d worked with her on the two Shrek films, and had seen somebody who could go from designing costumes for Dirty Dancing 2 to designing costumes for a computer animator to work with. On Shrek she had to teach a bunch of 30-year-old-males how cutting along the bias could change how the cloth could move. I knew she had this incredible range. She designs from the story, from the inside out. I attribute the designs for the White Witch to her and Tilda [Swinton]. The White Witch didn’t have a costume so much as her dress would change. As her power wanes, her crown gets smaller and her dress changes color. Isis is such a fun person to work with, and that was great with the kids.BTL: What were some of your hair and makeup designer Nikki Gooley’s attributes?Adamson: Nikki came to me through Don and Roger, who’d worked with her on Peter Pan. She was wonderful, and has a fantastic attitude. The kids might question that though, because they had to have period World War II haircuts. They turned out great, but the children complained. BTL: You used multiple effects houses: Rhythm and Hues, ILM, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Studio C, soho vfx, and others. Why so many? And how was the work distributed?Adamson: So many because we were doing a lot of complex things. In a lot of visual effects films you have one difficult thing that is repeated throughout the film; we had a lot of difficult things that were repeated throughout the film. With Aslan [the lion], we started developing with Rhythm & Hues a good two years ago. I originally wanted to do the entire film with one house, to recreate the kind of environment I had with Shrek where the studio and effects were integrated, but the volume meant we had to split it up. And it grew as we were shooting. Sony Pictures Imageworks did the beavers and the fox and Mr Tumnus, for example. The battle scene was very complex, and ILM came in late for that and were amazing. They also did the backgrounds and the cathedral. [Working with multiple effects houses] is not something I would recommend but I was pleased with how it worked. I think after this I am going to start a symposium for digital standards.BTL: Some of the talking animals, especially Aslan the lion and the talking horse, are incredible. How did you pull it off?Adamson: [Special effects house KNB’s] Howard Berger was such an enthusiast of the film; he had loved the book when he was a kid. He went so far beyond what I expected. In terms of the main minotaur, we talked about creating a radio-controlled head for him. I imagined doing a lot of the shots CG, but we ended up doing mainly close-ups with him. I got a lot more out of the prosthetic than I thought. Aslan was more CG, but we used animatronics as well. The horse was real. It’s just that his mouth moved.BTL: As adults, we see all this and we know it’s created with visual effects. How do you expect children react?Adams
on: The ideal for me is you don’t think about it. Once you’re involved in the film, you accept them as characters. That is a given with an animated film: you know it’s not real, but you get involved in the story and you care about the characters. With Aslan, people are crying when he dies; you know he doesn’t exist, but you cry. Kids don’t carry the same baggage as adults, they don’t want to disbelieve. Children want to be taken away by the magic. The story is about the wonders of childhood. I like the fact that the film can transport me back to that.BTL: How closely did you work with your editor Sim Evan-Jones?Adamson: I worked with Sim straight out of Shrek. He’s someone who understands my process of editing the film before I make it. I planned out the whole film ahead of time: I storyboarded it and we edited it in storyboard. I had Sim editing the film for about a year ahead of shooting. Sim shares my aesthetic as far as cutting style and the music. The temp score was instrumental in finding the tone of the film. We also had Jim May, who is an effects editor. Sim made him second editor. It was a long process as far as editorial goes. Sim was on the film for three years.BTL: And you chose Harry Gregson-Williams, who scored Shrek and Shrek 2, to work on Narnia also.Adamson: Harry I love. We have a great deal of trust that has built up over the years. He’s someone who’s very sensitive, but he’s capable of those epic scores, such as in the battle scene. He’s very articulate, and he can express the emotion I’m after. He can sit down at the piano and immediately he plays exactly what I’m thinking. It’s a lot about communication and trust.BTL: There are seven books in The Chronicles of Narnia. Are you working on the sequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?Adamson: I’m mainly working on a vacation right now. A few weeks ago I’d have said, no I’m never going to work on another film again in my life. But I think really it’ll come down a lot to the kids: if they want to do another one, and if the studio wants to make another one.

Written by Sam Molineaux

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